Tuesday, April 23, 2002

FROM THE NBA MAN-CHILD FILE: Great Washington Post story (here's part one and part two) about 20-year old rookie Kwame Brown and his first year in the league. Sample:

Brown came off the bench on December 4 to record the first double-double of his career against San Antonio's David Robinson and Tim Duncan, with 10 points and 12 rebounds. The Wizards hoped it was the start of something. But the next day, typically, he came to practice lethargic. By now Collins had had it, and so had most of his teammates. Jordan was struggling with a bad knee and doing everything he could to help turn the team around, and here was this kid who didn't know the meaning of work.

It was Brown's worst day as an NBA player. "The most physically demanding day of my entire life," he says. Collins put the Wizards through a brutal, exhausting practice. The team was in a collective foul mood. Despite Brown's mini-breakthrough, the Wizards had lost yet again. "Everyone was arguing, people were beating each other up," Brown says. But mostly, they took it out on him.

Brown couldn't do anything right. "He couldn't catch it, couldn't throw it, couldn't shoot it right," Jones says. In a series of three-on-three drills, the Wizards banged him – hard, intentionally. "He got pretty beat around," Jones says. Center Jahidi White knocked him to the ground – and fell on top of him. Brown lay there, stunned and bruised.

"Get up, you aren't hurt," White said.

Brown got up, aching, holding his back. His gray practice shirt was soaked through. Nobody had any sympathy for him. Not even Popeye Jones, the veteran who'd looked out for him the most. "It's time for you to grow up," Jones told him, coldly. "Now. Today. Stand on your own two feet."

Collins, still not satisfied, ordered a set of punishing sprints. Brown hesitated. "I hurt my back," he said.

Collins wheeled. Now it was his turn. "Stop being a baby and start growing up and playing, and earning the respect of your teammates," Collins shouted. "They're tired of you. They're tired of you getting knocked down, and laying around. They're tired of you holding your back. And holding your head. And holding your thumb. You're the one who has to be in that locker room, and meet them eye to eye."

Brown stared at his feet. "Do you want to play or not?" Collins snapped. No answer.

"Get off the court," Collins said disgustedly.

He sat in front of his locker trembling and crying. This is it, he thought, the league's not for me. I'm horrible. The coach thinks I'm horrible. The whole team thinks I'm horrible. I can't even play. Then he got on a treadmill and ran as hard he could, for almost an hour.

After a while, Jordan came into the locker room. He sat on a bench with Brown, and put his arm around him, and hugged him. "You're going to be all right," he said. For several minutes, he talked to Brown in soothing tones. "Doug is tough, but in a few years you'll understand how good he is," he said. They still believed in him, Jordan affirmed. "We put our necks out for you," he said. "We think you have the ingredients to be a great power forward for a long, long time."

Via the Slam links page.

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